Thursday, December 18th, 2008...2:22 am
Am I A Writer?
That is a question I’ve been asking myself recently. Sure I like to write. In fact, it seems like I’ve been writing in one form or another over the past 10 years. In high school, I wrote for my school paper, the Guide Post. I enjoyed writing papers in college (especially this essay). I had even more fun writing entertaining emails to my friends (701SF listserv). Then I started a college basketball website where I wrote a bunch of goofy college hoops articles. I parlayed that into a position at CSTV where I had a weekly college sports column. In the last few years most of my writing has come in the form of blogging which I do here as well as my book club blog and on the Sportsvite blog. If you want to check out some of my favorite posts try the “best posts” category up top.
But I’ve never really identified myself as a writer. As a kid, math came so much easier to me than verbal or grammar skills that I just figured I was more of a numbers guy. On top of that my spelling is atrocious. I owe part of my future earnings in life to the guy who invented the spell checker. Without him, I would have no clue how to correctly spell words like “atrocious”. I still think I’m sharper and more skilled working on a business deal or creating a new strategy than when I put something down on paper. Besides a few English/lit classes in high school and college I’ve had little formal writing training or education.
I’m not sure exactly when I really began to enjoy writing. I pretty much learned to read off of the Newsday sports section and SI for Kids so sports writing was always near and dear to my heart. My elementary school teachers must have found it peculiar when my daily journal would contain words like stellar, upends, mathematically-eliminated and adversity. But I probably began to improve my writing as I started to read more aggressively near the end of high school.
To me, writing is cathartic because it allows me to organize my thoughts and clear my mind. Then I realized that people actually really listen (heck — you are still reading this and all my topic is writing about writing!!!), and can even be influenced, when they read something interesting. Sometimes it seems like my writing is more meaningful and impactful than anything I could ever do in person. So it has became something I always do no matter what I was doing (with a sentence like this I realize I have a ways to go!)
Recently I’ve had a few conversations and an email chain going with my friend Anand. If you knew me between the age of 12-24 there is a good chance you know Anand. We started playing sports together in middle school, continued in high school, both went to Michigan (he’s a year older) and then decided to move out to California around the same time after both spending a summer at UCLA. I’m not sure when we became tight. It just sort of seemed like we were always doing the same stuff, had the same interests, and see things in a similar way.
Anand has a huge passion for film and was recently promoted to an executive at a major studio (mazel tov!). He reads scripts all day long and knows more about movies and film making than anyone you know. He’s also been trying to get me to try my hand at screen-writing for awhile. I’ve always thought he was just blowing smoke to be nice. It’s funny though, because as I’m writing this I realize Anand isn’t really the kind of guy that blows smoke.
Last week, Anand shot me a quick reply to my post about fantasy. (FYI – I dig email replies after a post so if you’re ever thinking of sending me a note do so! Even if it’s just to say hey). The post was quite long and a little over the top. His note said “Sometimes I can’t tell if you are partially retarded or just a genius. Today I can say you are both”. I knew he was just messing around but I was also second guessing the post because a few friends in the digital/sports/fantasy biz had strong reactions to my take on fantasy. I no longer worry about my blog post topic or reader reaction (kind of just know what works by now) but I still worry about my writing ability and I wasn’t sure if I had effectively stated my points in the fantasy post. I shot Anand a note back telling him I was unsure if the post was successful. Anand’s reply is below. It blew me away. His advice is knowledgeable, constructive and makes perfect sense. I’ve already tried to incorporate his advice into my last few posts.
Now I’m thinking maybe I should take writing more seriously. Maybe I should spend some time actively and consciously improving my writing. Maybe it leads to a Littyhoops screenplay or writing a regular article/column for more than just the few dozen people who check out this blog. Maybe I just be the best blogger I can be and my stories become even more inspiring, heart-warming and influential. Maybe you’ll be helping old women soon! As I look forward to all I want to accomplish in 2009 and beyond, I’m trying to figure out if writing is a hobby, a passion, a career or a future. Do I owe it it to myself to work harder at it? What do you think it should be for me? Better yet, what should your hobby, passion or interest mean to you?
Here is Anand’s note that has me thinking and, might I add, is quite an impressive piece of writing….
As for your writing, I think several things-
1) More than anything, I think the feelings you are describing are ones of insecurity about your writing and this means two things. First off, you are getting neurotic about your writing and I don’t know if there is a truer sign of a writer than neuroses. Second, your insecurity is more than anything I think is coming from a lack of confidence a little. Obviously I don’t talk about it with you enough, so this is just my ventured guess, but I think part of you wants your posts to be perfect, but you have to accept that as long as you write, you will never write anything perfectly.
The best analogy I can equate it to is when you first learned how to shoot a jumper. You were kind of amazed when you got the ball in the net and probably thought the only way the ball went in was through some alchemy of luck and perfection. But as you practiced your jumper you realized there were certain mechanics that were individual to you, and that if you kept practicing them, the more frequent the ball would go in. I think the more you practice and worry about your writing process instead of the intended outcome, the more comfortable you will feel about your writing and better you think it will be, and thusly the better it will actually be.
2) As to your point about effectively and succinctly getting your points across, I think that blogging is different than other types of writing you have practiced in your life, and you are carrying the habits and form in the wrong medium. For example, the post about fantasy sports events, its very clear early on that you are trying to put forward a thesis and then back it up with supporting information, much like you would write a term paper. I think you have to remember that people read blogs as if they were having a conversation with another person and when you plot something like this out to much, its loses that conversational quality and its actually easier to poke holes and attack the idea.
3) I think you should actually take it as a really good sign that people write back and question your ideas. Most importantly, its already forcing you to assess your ideas more thoroughly and more fully and in the end will make them better. Also, the fact that you are engaging people to the point that they feel a response is necessary is actually the whole goal of the blog, right? It would be very boring if everyone agreed with your points and tacitly went along with them. As to your point of controversy, I think its definitely ok to discuss controversial topics, or simple topics in a controversial way, but most importantly, you have to be true to yourself and your passions. If you just write to incite, then you aren’t really challenging yourself as a writer. I certainly think there is value in provocation, but you as a writer have to learn how to use that as one of your many tools as a writer and not make it the only arrow in your quiver. It’s a delicate balance you have to play but not one to be avoided, nor overused.
Have you ever read the essay POLITICS AND THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE by George Orwell?
I’m sure you can find online somewhere, and the entire essay won’t apply, but one point that he makes that I have found has made a profound difference in allowing me to express my ideas succinctly and effective. He talks about the connection between your thoughts and your speech/written word. He talks about how the connection between your thought and expression is so intricately tied, that if you try to express something and your audience becomes confused, its usually because you yourself are confused and haven’t fully understood the ideas yet. So when someone tries to explain something to you but can’t, its because its not clear in his own head. Until the ideas are fully understood and known, its very difficult to communicate and express in an effective and succinct manner.